Back again with another technique and recipe—here the classic béchamel sauce, one of the great, yet rarely used, sauces for the home kitchen. We don’t always have veal stock around for classical demi or Espagnole, or often any stock for a velouté. But milk we do have: flavor it with some shallot, a little nutmeg, salt and pepper, thicken it with cooked flour and you have a dynamite all-purpose sauce, for chicken, fish, or my favorite sandwich on earth, the croque madame. So, so good. This is a great weekend lunch or anytime dinner. (FYI, I love the montage that opens these videos but if you’ve seen it, the technique begins at 1:11.)

I asked to use this particular Le Creuset vessel because of its clever utility. In restaurant kitchens, sauté pans regularly double as pot lids. Someone in the LC design shop realized this and actually made an excellent sauté pan that doubles as a fitted lid for a great enameled cast iron pot. It’s already made its way to our teensy kitchen in NYC and will be in regular use there.

I repeat, this is a killer sandwich, and I’m sorry my final evaluation of it was edited out, LC being a family-friendly site and all.

Here’s a link to my LC techniques archive, and this link will take you to LC’s experimental potluck offer.

And please give the béchamel its due. It’s fabulous. Add cream for a simple cream sauce. Add grated cheese for a cheese sauce (easiest and best mac and cheese there is; stay away from Kraft chemical packets, they aren’t necessary). Pour it over sautéed shrimp shells, simmer and strain for a shellfish sauce. Pour it over sautéed mushrooms, add 1/4 cup cream, and you have the best cream of mushroom soup you’ve ever had (add a wee pinch of curry and a few drops of white wine vinegar to season). Seriously, milk is the great all-purpose home sauce starter.

Croque Madame

For the Sauce

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 ounces salted butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Gratings of nutmeg
  • Salt as needed

For the Sandwiches

  • 4 slices bread, buttered
  • Dijon to taste
  • 6 ounces sliced ham, warmed or room temperature
  • 2 ounces grated Gruyère
  • 1 ounce vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  1. Make the sauce: combine the shallot and butter in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until butter is bubbling and the shallot is translucent. Add the floor and stir to heat the flour and coat it all with butter. (If using unsalted butter, and a pinch of salt here.)
  2. Turn the heat to high and add the milk, whisking continuously until the milk comes to a simmer and thickens. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, skimming any skin that may form on the surface, for about 15 minutes and up to 45, then remove from the heat and cover. This can sit like this for up to 4 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to broil.
  4. Put the pan over medium heat.
  5. Make the sandwiches by spreading each of the first pieces of bread with Dijon on the unbuttered side, then divide the ham then the cheese between the two. Top with the remaining piece of bread, buttered side up.
  6. Put the sandwiches in the pan and cook till the bread is golden brown. Flip the sandwiches and cook till the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted.
  7. While the sandwiches are cooking, bring the sauce back up to a simmer.
  8. Heat a nonstick pan with vegetable oil over medium heat and crack two eggs into it. Cook them gently till the white is set for a sunny-side up egg.
  9. While the eggs are cooking, ladle 2 to 3 ounces of sauce over each sandwich, and put the pan below the broiler to gratin the sauce (brown it). When it has lightly browned, remove the pan and put an egg on each sandwich (if you prefer your eggs more cooked, return the pan to the broiler and cook them as you wish).

Serves 2

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.